New Brunswick

Dennis Oland considered suspect within hours of body discovery, defence suggests

Saint John police were looking for security video of a person matching Dennis Oland's description within hours of his father's bludgeoned body being discovered, his murder retrial heard on Friday.

Officer assigned to find security video of person matching Oland's description, murder retrial hears

Dennis Oland told police he was wearing a navy blazer when he went to visit his father on July 6, 2011, but video surveillance shows he was wearing a brown sports jacket that day, the jury heard. (Court exhibit)

Saint John police were looking for security video of a person matching Dennis Oland's description within hours of his father's bludgeoned body being discovered, his murder retrial heard on Friday.

Patrol Const. Rob Carlisle testified he was assigned over the noon hour on July 8, 2011, to collect any security video he could find of the King Street area from the evening of July 6.

Const. Sean Rocca of the major crime unit told him he was interested in the 5:10 p.m. time frame, and Carlisle had jotted down "beige pants … dark blazer" in his notebook.

Defence lawyer Michael Lacy asked Carlisle to explain the context of his notes. Carlisle, who didn't testify at Oland's first trial in 2015 or at the preliminary inquiry in 2014, said it was difficult to remember more than seven years later.

"I'm going to suggest to you sir that the context was officer Rocca told you that they believed they had a potential suspect, isn't that right?" Lacy asked.

"I don't recall if there was a name mentioned or how this person fit into the investigation and the time," replied Carlisle.

Pressed further, he said, "The surveillance that I recollect was of a man walking through the pedway" system, which connects several locations in the uptown area.

During Oland's first trial, the jury saw timestamped security stills of him wearing beige pants and a brown sports jacket in the pedway system at 10:32 a.m., on his way to work at CIBC Wood Gundy in the Brunswick House office tower, and then again 5:08 p.m., after work.

Oland had testified he was on his way to visit his multimillionaire father, Richard Oland, at his office, at 52 Canterbury St. He was the last known person to see his father alive.

Sgt. Mark Smith, the head of the Saint John Police Force's forensic identification section, said he noticed the back door when he first arrived at 52 Canterbury St., and planned to test it later. (CBC)

The body of the 69-year-old was discovered face down in a pool of blood in his office the next morning, shortly before 9 a.m.. He had suffered more than 40 blows to his head, neck and hands. No weapon was ever found.

​ A jury found his only son guilty in December 2015, but the New Brunswick Court of Appeal overturned the conviction in October 2016 and ordered a new trial, citing an error in the trial judge's instructions to the jury.

Oland, 50, is now being retried for second-degree murder by judge-alone. Proceedings are scheduled to resume on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

The defence contends police were too quick to focus on Oland and didn't properly search for other suspects.

They have described the investigation by the Saint John Police Force as "inadequate," citing a failure to protect the bloody office, the washroom in the foyer outside the office and back door from contamination.

'Get out of my crime scene'

On Friday, the head of the forensic identification section testified he left the bloody crime scene for a few minutes on July 7, 2011, to retrieve some supplies from his van and when he returned, he found his supervisor and another officer standing near the victim's body.

"What did you do?" asked Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot.

"I sternly ordered them to get out of my crime scene," replied Sgt. Mark Smith, who was worried about the evidence getting contaminated.

He did not authorize Insp. Glen McCloskey or Const. Greg Oram to enter the blood-spattered office, he said.

It was McCloskey's second trip into the crime scene that day, the court has heard. He was one of several senior officers who had asked earlier to "view the body," said Smith, who hadn't finished processing the scene yet but conceded in frustration.

During that trip in, McCloskey and the others were under Smith's supervision. He told them where they could walk and how far they could go.

Deputy Chief Glen McCloskey retired in April after nearly 30 years with the force. (CBC)

McCloskey, who went on to become the deputy chief, testified at Oland's first trial that when he went in again with Oram it was out of "curiosity." He admitted that he went farther into the crime scene than previously directed by Smith, without wearing any protective gear, and was embarrassed.

McCloskey's conduct became the focus of a criminal investigation and professional conduct investigation because another officer testified he had urged him not to reveal he had been in the bloody crime scene.

Halifax Regional Police did not lay any charges. The New Brunswick Police Commission scheduled an arbitration hearing on the Police Act matter, but McCloskey retired in April. The police watchdog only has the authority to discipline active officers.

Washroom used before testing

The trial also heard Friday at least two officers and a civilian used the washroom in the foyer outside the bloody office. Smith had not yet tested it for evidence.

Const. Chris McCutcheon testified he was assigned to guard the scene on July 10. He arrived at 6:30 a.m. and remained in the foyer area for 12 hours and 23 minutes.

He used the toilet twice during that period, he said, and washed his hands in the sink.

"I understood that that washroom was outside of the scene area and that I wouldn't be compromising the scene in any way shape or form by using the washroom," said McCutcheon, who only had only been on the job about seven months at that time and currently works for the major crime unit.

No one had instructed him otherwise, he said.

Const. George Prosser, who guarded the scene for about 12 hours on July 9, also testified to using the washroom likely more than once.

He said the victim's secretary's husband, Bill Adamson, also used the washroom that day.

The defence contends any trace of a blood-spattered killer cleaning up may have been washed away.

Opened door 'negated' testing

The back door in the foyer, which the defence has argued would have been the preferred exit route of the "killer or killers" because it led to an alleyway, was never tested for evidence either because it was contaminated before Smith got to it, the retrial heard on Thursday.

Smith said he intended to dust the door for fingerprints and swab it for DNA after he finished processing the office. But by mid-afternoon, somebody had opened the door, 

"The door and the door latch had been handled, negating my plan" to test it, he said.

This door, which the defence contends would have been the preferred exit route for a blood-spattered killer because it led to an alleyway, was not tested for forensic evidence. (Court exhibit)

The RCMP forensic lab was "not very willing" to take any touch DNA submissions to begin with because of the low probability of getting any results, he explained.

"To aggravate that again, somebody else touching on top of the touch DNA — they probably would not have ever taken that at that point."

Smith was the only forensic officer available the day the body was discovered, the courtroom heard. One had a broken leg and was limited to desk duty, another was doing an understudy program with the RCMP's forensic tech crimes unit, the third was off and the unit's newest member had not yet attended the basic forensic training course.

He arrived at the scene shortly after 10 a.m., left around 10:40 a.m. to retrieve some equipment and supplies from the police station and returned around 11:20 a.m. He saw the back door each time and it was closed, he said.

Smith checked the door for any obvious signs of blood, forced entry or other evidence, but planned to examine it more thoroughly later.

"Did you touch that door in any fashion?" asked Crown prosecutor P.J. Veniot. "No I did not."

His primary focus, he said, was the "core" crime scene, which he had to photograph, fingerprint and swab.

He also helped to remove the body from the bloody office, and escorted the body to the morgue at the Saint John Regional Hospital, where an autopsy was scheduled to be performed the following day.

When he returned to the office, he noticed the back door was open.

"Did you find out who might have opened the door?" asked Veniot.

"No," replied Smith.

"Were you able to determine if it was locked or unlocked?"

"I was not able to determine that."